‘L’Amante Anglaise’ was disturbing.
Two chairs were placed upstage and downstage, a dress dangled from the curtain above, however, the stage was otherwise bare. The emotions, pace and content of ‘L’Amante Anglaise’, written by Marguerite Duras and directed by Laurence Strangio, matched the somber and sparse environment which was created from the moment the audience entered the theatre.
Largely devoid of emotion, the interrogative performance extended for 105 minutes without an interval. The production featured two widely experienced actors who told the disturbing tale of Claire Lannes who murdered her deaf and dumb cousin Marie-Therese, cut the corpse limb from limb and dumped the dismembered body on various trains heading away from the scene of the crime. However, the mystery of where Claire had disposed of the body’s head remained.
Originally written as a French novel, ‘L’Amante Anglaise’ is based upon a true crime committed in a small French town in 1966 which closely dictated the proceedings of the play. Despite the production being labelled as a ‘psychological thriller’, the play largely focused on analysing the disturbed mind of Claire Lannes, played by Jillian Murray, and the perspective of her husband Pierre Lannes, played by Rob Meldrum.
Each character took turns being interrogated by their unnamed counterpart. The script was rather cyclical in nature, returning to similar questions without answering the one posed previously and providing very few definitive responses. Certain areas of the script were gripping, where emotion broke through and the twisted mind of the main character came to the fore. However, much of the production sat on a consistent level of emotional intensity, making the infrequent outbreaks all the more palpable.
The audience were caught off guard when the two lead actors appeared without warning at the beginning of the production. The audience lights did not dim as the actors presented the prelude, setting the scene of the dramatic murder. It was only after these monologues that the fourth wall was established, the lights dimmed, and the play progressed.
Despite the appealing premise and interesting staging, it was difficult to remain engaged throughout the extensive spans of dialogue and minimal dynamic change of the 105-minute performance. Both Claire and Pierre for the most part were fairly mild in character, despite the gruesome story which shrouded their marriage. The narrative mirrored the detachment of the couple’s relationship and the seemingly harrowing tale of their cousin’s murder curiously followed in a similar vein.
Jillian Murray played Claire with eerie believability with the character’s breakdown being one of the most emotionally charged moments of the production. Claire’s clipped and polished English accent did little to conceal the problematic issues within her mind. Murray presented this character with an honesty which aligns with her extensive theatrical credits.
Rob Meldrum as Pierre was consistent and measured throughout his performance. Unfortunately, the script did not allow Meldrum to explore a variety of emotional dynamics, making some of Pierre’s dialogue difficult to fully engage with.
The human psyche is a difficult creature to explore and ‘L’Amante Anglaise’ made a commendable effort to delve into the minds of two complex and troubled people.‘L’Amante Anglaise’ stripped away the action usually present in plays and left the motive, intent and prior context as the narrative tools which drove the story.
On occasion, this method of story-telling hit the mark, however, despite the harrowing story which lay at the crux of the production, the banality of the script lacked the drive to maintain audience interest from beginning to end. The caliber of the two actors and the staging of the piece were the highlights of ‘L’Amante Anglaise’, a play which certainly left audiences with a lot of questions to ponder.
‘L’Amante Anglaise’ was produced by Critical Stages Touring and performed at the QUT Gardens Theatre. For more information on their 2019 touring calendar visit http://criticalstages.com.au.